Category Archives: Hugh Patterson

The Importance of the Endgame Seven

Today, we’re going to look at an endgame position that arises from time to time. It’s a position that the skilled endgame player can easily win. However, when the beginner is faced with this same position, a draw is usually the result! Fret not, because with a little knowledge and practice, even the beginner can turn this seemingly bad position into a stunning victory! Let me start by introducing our actors playing out this endgame drama. Stepping onto the stage for white are the King, a dark squared Bishop, a light squared Bishop and a pawn. However, each of the two examples will employ only a single Bishop of one color. Black is represented by a lone King. There are some important ideas to consider in this type of position when considering your endgame plan. If you don’t have a plan, you have nothing (perhaps a painful loss).

In both our examples, we’re trying to promote a Rook pawn, a pawn working it’s way up the h file in this case. Rook pawns can be tricky for both players to deal with because their on the edge of the board. This means they’re difficult to attack and difficult to defend. Why? Because you can only access the squares on one side of the pawn in question rather than squares on either side. Remember, Rook pawns can be difficult for either side to deal with. The next potential problem we face in this type of endgame position is created by the Bishop. In example one, the Bishop’s not a problem but in example two, the Bishop creates a bit of a problem. The problem has to do with the color of the promotion square and the color of the squares the Bishop controls. If the Bishop can control the promotion square, there is no immediate problem. If the promotion square is the opposite color of the Bishop, you’ll have to work a lot harder to promote your pawn. Ideally, you want to have a Bishop that can can control the promotion square in this type of endgame position. Take a look at the first example:

Here, we have an example of a Bishop that controls the white pawn’s promotion square. This is a crucial factor in securing an easy victory. The first thing the beginner should notice is the opposition of the two Kings. In each article in this series, we’ve talked about the importance of King opposition in endgame play. Also note that the King can easily defend either his pawn or Bishop. In the majority of endgame positions you’ll encounter, the King must be active and must be close to his remaining forces in order to protect them. During the opening and middle-game, our pawns and pieces serve as bodyguards for his majesty. However, in the endgame the King often becomes a bodyguard. The King must, in most cases, protect the material you have on the board in order to deliver checkmate. Your King becomes a deadly attacker and defender during this phase of the game!

We know from previous articles that we want to think about where we don’t want the opposition King to go, in this case, away from the h8 square where mate will be delivered. We also need to know where we want the opposition King to go, in the above example, the h8 square. Pawn and piece coordination are critical. Your material must work together as a team (no “Pawn Solo” action). This being the case, we can see that the Bishop on e7 controls the f8 square, so the black King cannot use that square for escape. Therefore, our Bishop is on the right square. White’s first move is 1. h7+ which forces the black King to h8. Note that the white King is protecting the pawn!. Black plays 1…Kh8 and only now do we move the Bishop with 2. Bf6#. A very simple example to help reinforce the ideas required in this type of position. Remember, piece coordination rules the endgame!

Now, what happens if we have a Bishop whose color doesn’t match that of the pawn’s promotion square? For a start, things become a bit more complicated!However, just because our Bishop isn’t able to control the promotion square doesn’t mean all is is lost. Though it does mean we have to play very carefully! The key here is to use our King and Bishop to keep the black King from settling in on the promotion square for white’s pawn, h8. Take a look at the example below. Remember, where do you want the opposition King to go and not to go?

Again, it’s all about herding the opposition King, in this case away from the square he wants to go to, h8. If he gets there even five pounds of dynamite won’t extract him from that square! The black King wants to go to h8 to stop the white pawn from promoting. Therefore, we can stop the black King dead in his royal tracks by playing 1. Bh7. With 1…Kf6, the black King tries to slide around the white pawn and Bishop. Again we find that King opposition plays a critical role in this position. After 2. Kf4, white has effectively positioned his King so that, with the aid of the pawn and Bishop, the opposition King is kept off of the g file. In the endgame, your pawns and pieces must work together in a coordinated manner. Black’s King can’t make any headway in getting to the h8 square. After 2…Ke6, white plays 3. Kg5 which bolsters the h pawn and further shuts out the black King.

Here we’re going to see a bit of a dance between the two Kings as one tries to infiltrate the promotion square and the other tries to stop it. Black plays 3…Kf7 attempting to keep white’s King from further strengthening his position. No problem says white, it’s time to put the King’s back into opposition with 4. Kf5. Black responds with 4…Ke7 and white moves the King closer to the 8th rank with 5. Kg6. The idea to keep in mind is that white wants to use his King to shield the pawn trying to promote. Black is pushed back with 5…Kf8 and white puts his King back in opposition with 6. Kf6. Black plays 6…Ke8 and now we employ the Bishop again with 7. Bg8. When black plays 7…Kf8, the beginner might panic and quickly whisk the Bishop away to safety. However, the correct move is 8. h7, using the pawn to protect the Bishop. This was the point of moving the Bishop to g8!

With nothing better to come up with, black plays 8…Ke8 and it’s all over when white plays 9. h8=Q.

In the above example, white was able to effectively use a Bishop of the wrong color (from a promotion viewpoint) to aid in the promotion of the h pawn. In chess, as in life, when you get handed lemons (or the wrong colored Bishop), make lemonade (or promote a pawn). Always use your King and any material you have in a coordinated effort. Your King is priceless in the endgame and a bad Bishop can do good things, provided you use him wisely. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of The Endgame Six

While checkmate with a King and Queen against a lone King is simple enough for the beginner to grasp, things change when there’s an opposition Queen still on the board (King and Queen versus King and Queen). Add a white pawn on the seventh rank, one move away from promotion, and things can get a bit tricky (believe it or not) for both players if they’re beginners. Of course, the experienced player will scoff at the notion of things getting a bit “tricky” with a pawn one square away from promotion. However, I’ve seen countless games in which beginners (playing white) will not only lose this pawn so close to promoting, but end up getting their Queen skewered to boot! As I’ve mentioned in previous endgame articles, you have to play very carefully during this game phase because one bad move can easily turn the tide in favor of your opponent! The less material on the board, the more important that material is and losing any material, even a pawn, can cost you the game.

The big difference with this endgame position, compared to a King and Queen versus lone King position, is that there are two Queens on the board (not to mention a white pawn that can add a third Queen into the fracas! Beginners playing the white pieces make the fatal mistake of trying to promote their pawn while maintaining their original Queen so they end up with a pair of Queens. This type of thinking, not seeing the bigger picture, leads to a plethora of problems. Remember, the person playing black also has a Queen that can deliver check, putting a halt to white’s plans. So what should the beginner do when faced with this type of endgame?

Rather than try to promote the pawn and acquire a second Queen, the beginner should try to eliminate the black Queen using a forcing move. Of course, this means making a move that forces the opposition’s hand which equates to black having to give up their Queen to stop you from promoting your pawn into a second Queen. Or as Don Corleone might say, “I’m going to make a move he can’t refuse!”

It should be noted that in this type of position, you have to be very wary of potential skewers. A skewer takes place on a rank, file or diagonal. In a skewer, a Bishop, Rook or Queen attacks an opposition piece. However, the real target of the attack is another piece positioned behind the first piece being attacked (along the rank, file or diagonal). In this type of endgame, the idea is to check the King and when the King moves, unable to defend the true target of the attack which is the Queen, that Queen is lost. Thus in a skewer, the real victim cannot be defended, so when the initial piece being attacked moves, the piece behind it is captured. In this type of endgame, the skewer will have one of the Queens checking one of the Kings and the poor piece behind the King (the true victim) will be a Queen. This would change the game’s outcome immediately. However, in our examples, there are no skewers to be had because of both King’s positions. Both Kings are on the same rank making a skewer highly unlikely. However, if one player could employ a series of checks that forced one of the Kings out towards the center of the board, a skewer could be employed! Let’s take a look at our first example!

In the above example, white plays 1. Qd4+. Beginners tend to make silly checks that amount to nothing because the checking piece’s action can be blocked, the checking piece can be captured or the King can simply move out of check. In this case, the check is solid because it lines the white Queen up with it’s target square, d8. What’s so important about d8? The white Queen can force a trade of Queens, allowing white to promote, regain a Queen and go on to win the game. After 1…Kb1, white plays 2. Qd8 forcing black’s hand! There’s nothing black can do but capture the Queen with 2…Qxd8 and white promotes with 3. exd8=Q!

The key here is to not even try to acquire a second Queen by promotion but to eliminate the opposition Queen with a threat the opposition can’t ignore. Note that in this endgame example, both Kings remain out of the action. While we always want to activate our Kings in the endgame, there are positional situations that require the actions of other pieces first. Again, in the above example, the position of both Kings thwarts a potential skewer. Now let’s take a look at another example.

In the above example, white plays 1. Qe6+ to connect the Queen with the critical square, e8. The check is really secondary but it does force the black King to move, 1…Kb2. With 2. Qe8, white again tries to force black into a trade of Queens that allows the white pawn on f7 to promote. However, black plays 2…Qb4, avoiding the exchange for the moment. While black is doomed in this position, he does give fighting back a try. After white promotes with 3. f8=Q, black delivers a check of his own with 3…Qc4+. Beginners sometimes think, “hey two Queens are better than one so I’ll move my King out of check.” The problem with moving your King is that, if you’re playing a really strong tactical player, you might eventually fall victim to a skewer. Therefore, white makes the correct move, 4. Qe2+, blocking the check with a check of his own,forcing a trade of Queens. Black takes on e2 with 4…Qxe2+ and white now brings his King into the action with 5. Kxe2. Now white can win with King and Queen against lone King. Notice that white still got his Queen trade!

In both examples, white made moves that forced black to give up his Queen. Rather than trying to maintain two Queens throughout the endgame, white simplified the position, making it easier to win. If you’re new to endgame play, you’ll want to keep it simple. Even with two Queens facing off against one opposition Queen, you can get into trouble. It’s better to have one Queen and no opposition Queen to deal with than two Queens and an opposition Queen. Remember, it’s about forcing the opposition to give up their Queen and that requires making forcing moves, giving the opposition no other options or options that poor at best. Also note that Queens in the hands of a beginner can lead to stalemate. I’ve seen countless games in which a beginner with a King and Queen versus lone opposition King has ended up with a stalemate position. A beginner with two Queens can be a danger, not to the opposition, but to themselves. Play smart in the endgame by simplifying things. Give up having two Queens against one Queen in favor of one Queen for yourself and no Queen for the opposition. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance Of The Endgame Five

In this week’s article, we’re going to look at the most difficult checkmate for the beginner to master, mate involving Knight, Bishop and King versus lone King. This mate proves to be difficult even for “improvers” because it requires forcing the opposition King to a specific corner square using two minor pieces that move in very different ways. In last week’s article, we learned how to use a pair of Bishops with our King supporting them to deliver checkmate. Because each Bishop can only control one color square (either light or dark), as opposed to Rooks who can control both colored squares simultaneously, they have to work in closer coordination with one another and their King. On the plus side, the two Bishops move identically (diagonally) so pushing the opposition King towards the mating square is easier than in the case of the Knight and Bishop.

With the Knight and Bishop duo, it’s all about herding the opposition King to a corner square that the Bishop can control. Yes, I said herding! I’ve watch a large number of videos and read through numerous books that explain this idea of forcing the King being mated to the mating square using a triangulation system. As a chess instructor and coach, I’m well versed in this checkmate and even I was left a bit confused trying to determine just how the triangulation system worked. In reality, it makes perfect sense to more experienced players but the beginner might get confused so I decided to simplify the idea.

Think of the opposition King as a sheep. Your Knight, Bishop and King are the sheep herders. Their goal is to herd the stray sheep back into it’s pen, in this case the mating square. Your job is to herd the stray sheep, I mean King, back to the pen with as little fuss and muss as possible. Take a look at the example below:

This is a simplified position compared to example two but I present it first because it helps to clarify the key points you need to understand in order to checkmate in this way.

The first point to consider is that the opposition King must be driven into a corner because the checkmate can only occur if the King is literally cornered! Since there are four corners on a chessboard you have to determine which one is the correct corner. The good news is that you have a choice of two. Which two? It depends on the color of the squares your Bishop controls. In the above example, we have a Bishop that controls the dark squares. Therefore, the King has to be driven onto a dark colored corner square. Since you have two, the a1 and h8 squares, how do you decide? The answer is simple if the opposition King is closer to one of the two. You drive the King to the color square controlled by the Bishop that is closest to your Knight and Bishop duo. If equidistant, the choice is yours!

In our first example, the King has been driven towards the h8 square so that’s our target mating square. We start with 1. Nf5. Of course, the black King would like to run in the opposite direction of the h8 square but can’t because of the Bishop on b4, which controls the f8 square, so black is forced to play 1…Kh8. This kind of endgame position requires precise coordination between the Knight, Bishop and King. Failure to do so will allow the enemy King to escape and you’ll have to herd the King back to its pen all over again. You’ll see how hard herding is in our longer example.

White plays 2. Be7 which maintains control of the f8 square while lining it up with the f6 square. Black responds with his only legal move, 2…Kg8. White’s pieces are slowly moving in and surrounding the black King. White checks with 3. Nh6+ which forces the black King back to h8 with 3…Kh8. You should always examine potential escape squares for black before making a move in this type of position because giving the opposition King a chance to run away will force you to start all over again. You’ll see how horrible this can be shortly.

Looking at the position, we can see the the white King creates a barrier on g7 and h7. Our trusty Knight keeps the black King off of the g8 square. Now all we have to do is deliver the final blow with 4. Bf6# and it’s game over!

This example is the end result of a series of moves that drive the opposition King into the corner. However, as we’re about to see, the real challenge is simply getting that King into the corner. Let’s introduce a new key point, the idea of where you don’t want the enemy King to go. As a herder, you don’t want your sheep running behind you because you’ll have to turn around and start herding them back towards the pen. The same holds true in this type of position. You have to carefully and methodically herd the King to the target square.

In the above example, we have a dark squared Bishop which means we have to get the opposition King into a dark corner square, either a1 or h8. This means herding the King into the correct corner. Again, you can think of the black King as a sheep and the three white pieces as the sheep herders. As the commander of the white army, your job is to carefully control key squares the black King can use for his escape. You have to think in terms of where you don’t want the opposition King to go!

The Bishop on e3 controls the a7 square and the white King controls the b7 square so we start with 1. Nc7+. Note that the Knight on c7 is protected by the white King. You have to make sure that your pieces are protected at all times since losing one of your two minor pieces will lead to a draw! Black is forced to play 1…Kb8. The dark squared Bishop must maintain control of the a7 square, so as the black King doesn’t make a run towards freedom via that square, which is why white plays 2. Bb6, tightening white’s control of important territory. Black plays 2…Kc8, being pushed towards the mating square, h8. With 3. Ba7, white keeps the black King from going to b8, so the black King moves to d8 (3…Kd8). With 4. Nd5, white controls the e7 square and black moves the King to e8 with 4…Ke8. Now, white’s King enters the battle with 5. Kd6. This is where things get a bit difficult because the black King makes a run for freedom with 5…Kf7. In this type of checkmate, white will have to deal with the opposition King heading away from the corner towards the center where it will be difficult to corral him back towards the mating square. Therefore, you have to carefully consider your minor piece placement!

To the beginner, the move 6. Ne7 may seem to give the opposition King more freedom to escape. However, the Knight covers the squares f5 and g6 which could be used as flight squares by black. The black King moves to f6 with 6…Kf6 and rather than check the King with 7. Bd4, white instead plays 7. Be3, again looking to cut off the black King rather than make a useless check. From e3, the Bishop covers the g5 square and black is pushed back with 7…Kf7. White now brings his Bishop to g5 with 8. Bg5, tightening the noose around the black King. Black plays 8…Ke8. Here white must move the Knight so the Bishop has unblocked control of the d8 square, so 9. Ng6 is played. Now black must move towards the mating square with 9…Kf7. While it seems that white’s Knight is now under attack, the simple 10. Ne5+ puts an end to that.

Of course, black is going to do everything humanly possible to avoid h8 so he plays 10…Ke8. Again, the white King steps in with 11. Kc7, keeping the black King off of the d8 square. It’s important to use the King’s ability to control key squares at the right time and this is the right time!

With 11…Kf8, white uses his King to once more push the black King towards it’s sticky end with 12. Kd7. Use of the King is critical in endgame play! Black makes another feeble attempt to break free with 12…Kg7 and white meets this with 13. Ke7. The King is a powerful weapon in the endgame! The black King moves to g8 with 13…Kg8 and white moves his Bishop, 14. Bh6. This last move helps control squares the black King wants use as an escape route. With 14…Kh7, black tries to attack the Bishop but the Bishop moves to f8, 15. Bf8, and maintains control of two key squares, g7 and h6. After 15…Kg8, the white Knight makes a move most beginners don’t understand because the Knight appears to be moving away from the action, 16. Ng4. Unlike the Bishop, the Knight often has to make extra moves in order to get to a key square, as we will see in a few moves.

Black plays 16…Kh7, again trying to escape. On move 17, rather than deliver check with the Knight (Nf6 which would allow the black King to move to g6), white moves his King to f7 with 17. Kf7, using the power of King opposition. Black plays 17…Kh8 and white follows with 18. Bg7+. This is a well thought out move because the black King is forced to play 18…Kh7. Now we see why the white Knight moved to g4, so it could eventually move to f6 which delivers mate with 19. Nf6#!

The key ideas to keep in mind with this type of checkmate are pushing the opposition King to a corner square that your Bishop can control, moving your pieces in a coordinated fashion that keeps the opposition King off of specific squares and using your King actively. I have my students play through this mate until they can do it without too much effort. This means they may play through the position twenty plus times. I highly suggest you play through this position every chance you get until you know it. It may not come up much in your games but when it does and you’re not prepared, you’ll lose the game. Even though it doesn’t come up a great deal, it will teach you volumes about piece coordination. Break out a chess board and get cracking. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance Of The Endgame Four

One of the first checkmate beginners learn is the Rook Roller, in which a pair of Rooks systematically push the opposition King to the edge of the board and deliver checkmate. This is followed by Queen and King versus lone King and King and Rook versus lone King mates. While these checkmates are easy to master, the beginner becomes very dependent on the pieces used to deliver mate and falls short in the victory department when they lose one of these key pieces before they can deliver checkmate. We’re going to look at using a pair of Bishops to deliver checkmate in today’s article. However, before we start, lets take a look the Rook Roller. I want to go over this simple mating attack because it will serve as a comparison point when discussing checkmate with a pair of Bishops.

It should first be noted that while the Rook and Bishop are both long distance pieces, there’s a huge difference between them when it comes to spacial control. Rooks can control both light and dark squares simultaneously while Bishops can only control squares of one color due to their diagonal movement. In the above example, white plays 1. Ra4 which sets up a barrier across the the 4th rank that the black King cannot cross. After 1…Kc5, white creates a second barrier with 2. Rh5+ forcing the black King back a rank with 2…Kb6. Both white Rooks work together to easily push the black King to the board’s edge. Of course, black tries to slow white down by covering the the a6 square so the the Rook on a4 can’t safe check. Beginners often lose this Rook with a hasty check ,but in our example, the a4 Rook simply glides across the board and prepares for mate with 3. Rg4. Black tries in vain to stay in the game, but after 3…Kc6, white checks again with 4. Rg6+. Note that the Rooks always maintain a pair of walls in front of the black King. With 4…Kd7, white checks again with 5. Rh7+ and mate occurs with white’s next move no matter what black does.

Notice that the white King didn’t have to involve himself in this endgame fracas. However, when we use a pair of Bishops to deliver mate, the white King will have to roll up his sleeves and fight for the mate along with the Bishops! Look at the example below:

I’ve taken the liberty of placing the white King on the square he needs to be on to assist in this checkmate. It’s important to move your King to a square that allows him to control squares the opposition King needs to use for escape. This means you have to get your King close to the opposition King rather than chasing that King around with your Bishops which gets you nowhere. Keeping the opposition King off of escape squares is a key concept in minor piece checkmates. Unlike the Rook who can control entire ranks and files, minor pieces have a limited ability to control space around the enemy King.

In our example, the dark squared Bishop on b4 keeps the black King from occupying a5. The white King controls b6 and b7. Our goal is to drive the black King to the a8 square. With 1. Bc4+ we force the black King to a7 (1…Ka7). Note the opposition of the two Kings. With the light squared Bishop covering a6, it’s time to push the black King once more with 2. Bc5+, forcing the black King to a8 (2…Ka8). We finally deliver mate with 3. Bd5#. The idea here was to drive the black King to the mating square while covering possible escape squares with our King and one of the Bishops.

In the above example, things are a little different. Here, King opposition is crucial in delivering mate, specifically the control of the a7 square. Less work chasing the opposition King around the board helps to avoid costly mistakes. When white plays 1. Kb6, creating King opposition, he keeps the black King from using the a7 square to avoid the mating attack. The black King is forced into the corner with 1…Ka8. It’s at this juncture that beginners playing the white pieces often end up with a stalemate because they play 2. Be5, which leads to stalemate, instead of the correct move, 2. Be7. This (2. Be7) is one of those great quiet moves that gives the black King a square to move to while still keeping an eye on the position. Black plays 2…Kb8 and now we can play for mate with 3. Bd6+. The Bishop on e6 covers the c8 square so the black King is forced back to the corner with 3…Ka8 and white mates with 4. Bd5#. Always be weary of stalemate when you have these types of positions. Before even considering the delivery of the first check, note which escape squares your King and Bishops cover and make sure the opposition King has a square to move to in order to avoid stalemate. As you can see, it’s all about piece coordination with minor piece mates!

Our last example is a slight variation of the previous example. I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing Bishop and King endgames, especially since it will teach you a great deal about how to force the opposition King to move where you want him to move.

In this example, white plays 1. Bd4 to use the Bishop rather than the King to control the a7 square. The opposition King moves to c8 (1…Kc8). With 2. Bf6, the Bishop reminds the black King that minor pieces are in charge in this position. Black makes a run for the a7 square with 2…Kb8. Now white moves his King into opposition with 3. Kb6 which cuts off the a7 square. Note that white had two options for controlling the a7 square, the King and dark squared Bishop. The black King tries to avoid the corner with 3…Kc8 and white checks with 4. Be6+. Notice that the dark squared Bishop on f6 keeps the black King from running away towards the h file. Always control potential opposition escape squares. The poor black King shuffles back over to b8 (4…Kb8) and gets hit with 5. Be5+ and the end is near! The black King if forced to a8 (5…Ka8) and white mates with 6. Bd5#.

With the Bishop pair you have to use your own King to help cut off the opposition King. Your Bishops will then corral the enemy King to the mating square but you need to be very careful when doing so because stalemate can be just a move away if you’re not observant. I recommend that you practice this type of mate, placing your King and two Bishops on their starting ranks and the opposition King towards the middle of the board. In the above examples, the pieces were placed in positions that allowed for a quick demonstration of the checkmate. In over the board play (real life), you won’t be as fortunate. Play through them because next week, we’re studying the Knight, Bishop and King against lone King. That’s a tough one. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance Of The Endgame Three

Let’s take a look at a final pawn and King endgame in which both players have two pawns each. The problem is that the pawns are locked in place, the Kings oppose one another and the pawns next to each King belong to the opposition. I could spend the next thirty articles writing about pawn and King endgames and still not cover everything. However, if you wish to improve your basic endgame skills, I highly recommend Bruce Pandolfini’s Endgame Course to aid you in your quest. His examples are excellent and he explains ideas in terms a beginner can easily understand. His book is mandatory reading for my older students! In fact, one copy travels around the globe with a well known musician I teach chess to.

As mentioned in the last two articles, King Opposition is a critical factor regarding pawn promotion. Using your King to keep the opposition’s King off of key squares (such as the promotion square and squares your pawn must travel through) is the only way to ensure the promotion of a pawn. However, there is an exception. If the opposition King is too away from the pawn trying to promote itself, his majesty will lose the race to capture the runaway pawn. How do you know if the opposition King is within striking range? Take a look at the example below:

In this example, we have a white pawn on a2 and the black King is on h8. Can white get the pawn to the a8 promotion square before the black King can catch it? You could simply play through the moves in your head, but that can take time which isn’t good if your chess clock is winding down. The easiest way to determine whether or not the pawn can make it to a8 is to create an imaginary box on the chess board whose perimeter runs from a3 to a8, then from a8 to f8, then from f8 to f3 and back over to a3. If the opposition King is outside of the box, white promotes. In this example, the opposition King is well outside the box so even if it were black’s turn, it wouldn’t matter. However, if it was black’s turn and the King was on the f8 square, the pawn would be a goner! The box method will save you time and energy but always remember, whose turn it is can change things around I the endgame.

Now on to our featured example. This is a tough one for the beginning player because, not only are the pawns locked up but both Kings seem to be behind the wrong pawns. After all, shouldn’t the King’s be guarding their own pawns? When I show this position to new students, they don’t understand what’s going on! Their first thought is usually that I’ve accidentally set up the position incorrectly because I’m an old geezer! When I tell them it is set up correctly they start trying to figure out a way to get one pawn to its promotion square (as white) before black does likewise. With my newer students, the answer seems impossible to find even when it is so obvious! Beginners think chess is extremely complicated, which it is to a certain extent. However, that doesn’t mean a simple solution can’t solve a complex problem. Beginners often think that this type of position requires some complicated endgame play. The correct first move in this position brings up a point I’ve been trying to make regarding endgame positions: Whose turn it is will often determine who will win the game, provided they make the correct move.

In the above example, it’s white to move. Had it been black to move, black would have the advantage. The two Kings are facing one another. Had they been in direct opposition, with a single empty square between them, this would have been a different endgame. Kings cannot occupy immediately adjacent squares so our invisible barrier would force white to find another path to victory. However, in this position, there are two squares between the Kings. This means that white can directly oppose the black King with 1. Kb5. Now white has closed the gap so the black King cannot advance up the b file. If it was black to move first, he would have done the same (1…Kb4).

The point to 1. Kb5 is that the White King now attacks both of black’s pawns and the black King can’t do anything about it. Black plays 1…Ka3 hoping to grab white’s a4 pawn if the opportunity arises but this move does no good. Black could have move to c3 but the result would be the same. White plays 2. Kxa5 and now white has a two to one pawn majority. Pawn majorities, having a greater number of pawns than your opponent, is a huge advantage in the endgame. With 2…Kb3, black’s King sits between the two white pawns hoping to at least capture one of them but it will not work because white plays 3. Kb5 putting the Kings in direct opposition once again. Now you can see why King opposition is so important and powerful.

Black is utterly lost in the position because white will be able to send one of the two pawns up the board to its promotion square. Black plays 3…Kc3 with the idea of trying to get to his own pawn and capturing the white c4 pawn. It is at this point that beginners can get into a spot of trouble, even playing white in this position. Believe it or not, I’ve seen beginners turn this into a drawn game!

The beginner playing white will think “hey, my opponent is going to try to get to his pawn as well as taking my pawn on c4. I should use my King to do something about that!” Wrong thinking. This idea has been considered by some of my endgame beginners because, after all, the King has been very active in the endgame examples they’ve studied. They think about moving the King which wouldn’t bode well for them. The white King is absolutely perfect where he is. He guards both the white pawn on c4 and the black pawn on c5. The black King cannot make any headway trying to either capture the white pawn or chase the white King away. Besides, the black King has bigger problems after white plays 4. a5! Black cannot catch the runaway pawn because of White’s King. The White King covers a4 and b4 so that side of the board is closed to the black King. The key point here is to remember that the King can defend as well as attack and in this case, the white King has a great defensive position that shuts out the black King. At this point, it’s all about promoting the pawn and then mating the opposition King. Since the pawn is free to move up the open a file, there’s no point in moving your king, especially since he’s on the perfect square!

In closing, when you see a position like the one above, the first thing you’ll want to look at is how many squares there are between the two Kings. That was the key factor. Use your King to defend squares that make it impossible for your opponent’s King to catch up to one of your pawns heading towards the its promotion square. Consider simple solutions before entertaining complex ones. Lastly, use the box method to determine whether or not your pawn can safely reach its promotion square. Next week, we’ll throw some minor pieces into the mix, starting with those sneaky and dangerous Bishops. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance Of The Endgame Two

Last week, we looked at how to promote a pawn in an endgame where King and pawn were up against a lone opposition King. With a little practice, the beginner will easily master this concept and win by carefully coordinating their King and pawn. However, in the real world, our opponent may also have a pawn on the board. They’re planning on promoting as well so things get a bit more complicated. Remember, there are always two plans involved in a game of chess, your plan and your opponent’s plan. Both plans will clash with one another which is what makes chess so fascinating. Only considering your plan will lead to disaster! Always consider your opponent’s plan when creating your own!

With an opposition pawn trying to reach its promotion square, you have to work twice as hard in the endgame. Why? Because you have to get your pawn to the other side of the board safely while preventing your opponent from promoting their own pawn. It’s a delicate balancing act that beginners have great trouble with. How do you protect your own pawn and stop the opposition pawn? King activity and King opposition are the watch words of the day! It’s the King that must do the crucial work!

To quickly review two key points from last week’s article, you must activate your King to protect your pawn and use King opposition to keep the enemy King away from key squares. Activating your King means getting him into the game. When you’re down to pawns and Kings, the King must become both defender and attacker or you lose the game! Too often, beginners leave their Kings on their starting rank during the endgame because they want a safe King. However, once there’s been a large reduction of material, the King can join the battle. As soon as the board is void of the majority of pawns and pieces, bring the King out! Of course, anytime you bring your King into the game, you have to be aware of the opposition’s nearby material. To win the endgame, your King must be an active participant.

King opposition means just that, having the King’s facing one another. Of course, they cannot be on immediately adjacent squares, but they can hold each other at bay as long as there’s a full square between them. The point to King opposition is simple: Since King’s cannot occupy squares immediately next to one another other, an invisible barrier is created that neither King cannot cross. This barrier can be used to stop the opposition King from controlling a square your pawn needs to occupy in order to promote. Set up a board and practice King opposition with just the two Kings. You’ll start to see how powerful a tool opposition can be in the endgame!

There are many positions that occur but one in particular tends to cause the beginner problems, pawns that are stuck facing one another (locked) with only their Kings to clear the way.

It goes without saying that this is an example of whoever has the first move has the advantage and the game! In endgame play, whose turn it is becomes a decisive factor. In the above example, it’s white to move. You’ll often see endgame positions in which the only two pawns in the game are locked up and it’s up to one of the Kings to free up the position. Unfortunately, beginners tend to move the two Kings in an endless circle around the locked pawns until one player blunders the position (as opposed to a carefully calculated move). King opposition is the key here! Both Kings are one square away from their own pawn and the opposition pawn they want to capture. Now you can see why whose move it is really matters. However, having it be your move can also work against you, as we’ll discuss shortly.

On move one, 1. Kd7, white moves right next to the pawn he’s got to eliminate. Of course, black isn’t going to sit back and let this happens and plays 1…Kf5. Both players have their target within their sights. This is where beginners start their endless King circling of the two pawns because they don’t fully understand basic endgame principles. However, white plays 2. Kd6, which still maintains an attack on the black e6 pawn while protecting his own pawn in e5. This is an example of the King as an attacker and a defender. Black will now lose his pawn no matter where he goes. Beginners must always consider the squares the pawn they’re trying to promote is attacking when determining where to move their King because that pawn can greatly aid its King.

A term you should become familiar with is Zugzwang. Zugzwang occurs when one player is forced to make a move when they’d rather pass on making that move. Because you have to move when it’s your turn, this concept can be extremely powerful, especially in the endgame. In our example, black is forced to move because it’s his turn. To make matters worse, black’s choices all force him to lose his pawn, allowing white to win the game. Black plays 2…Kg6 and white grabs the black pawn with 3. Kxe6. Had black been able to pass on his turn, leaving the King where it is, things would be different. However, rules are rules and the funeral bells are ringing for black! Note that white’s capture of the black pawn allows white to gain the opposition against the black King.

It should be duly noted that a beginner fortunate enough to be in this position as white can still throw the game away. Why? Because all they see is the promotion square and a new Queen! Tunnel vision sets in which always lead to positional misery! The person playing black in the position is going to try and get his King to the promotion square which is why black plays 3…Kg7, heading for e8. It’s at this point, that you must slow down and think very carefully about your response. Of course, the experienced player knows exactly what to do but the beginner sees only his pawn on the promotion square. The key here is to remember that invisible barrier that keeps the Kings from occupying immediately adjacent squares.

This is why white plays 4. Kd7. This allows white to control the e8 square and keep the King close enough to its pawn in case black makes a run at that pawn. Now, there is nothing black can do to stop the pawn promotion. Again, this last move by white is the key, controlling the promotion square with the King. Set up this position and play it through a few times.

Of course, it comes down to whose move it is in these types of positions so had it been black to move, things might have turned out differently (I say “might” because you never know with beginners). Keep the concept of Zugzwang in mind when considering a move. When playing an endgame position, having less material on the board might make you think it’s easier to win. However, less material makes losing what you do have that more devastating. This means you have to calculate carefully and take your time. Always look at the position from your opponent’s point of view. What would you do if you were on the other side of the board? Next week we’ll look at one last pawn and King example before moving on to the introduction of minor pieces to endgame play. Until then, here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of the Endgame One

Most novice games conclude well before the endgame. Teaching chess in the schools, I’m faced with the difficult task of teaching the rules of the game, basic tactics as well as simple opening, middle and endgame principles in an eight month period. Anyone who has studied this fantastic game knows all too well that it can take many years just to become proficient in only one of these areas. In a perfect chess teaching world, I’d start my students off with endgame instruction after they’ve learned the rules. However, both the parents and the schools I teach in want results and results means seeing the students I teach playing chess immediately. Because of this and the fact that many of my students are learning the game for the first time, endgame skills are not as large a part of the curriculum as I’d like. Because my beginning students don’t usually reach a proper endgame, they don’t realize just how important the endgame is, even with the limited training I give them. Thus the reason for this and upcoming articles.

The endgame is reached when most of the material has been exchanged off of the board and both players are left with a few pawns, a minor piece or two, sometimes a major piece, and their Kings. While it might seem that, with less material on the board, that this phase of the game is easier to deal with, the opposite is true. In the endgame, real positional calculation is required and the loss of the smallest amount of material can be the difference between winning and losing. Patience and deep thinking is required, something young minds often lack since both require a certain level of maturity that is garnered with time (growing up). Therefore, I’m presenting, in a series of articles, some endgame ideas that all beginners should learn, starting with pawn promotion.

In previous articles, I’ve mentioned that beginners tend to think of pawns as expendable. The novice player gives them away during the opening and middle-game because he or she has eight of them and they’re the least valued material in their army. However, pawns have two unique qualities that make them vital throughout the game (not to be given away so freely). First off, because they’re on the lowest end of the relative value scale, they can push back material of greater value. More importantly and critical to winning in the endgame, they can promote into a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight. That means that every pawn that reaches its promotion square can transform itself into a dangerous piece! All it takes is a single pawn reaching it’s promotion square and the game will be won, if you know how to do it!

To promote a pawn, you need to get that pawn safely across the board. This means that a white pawn starting on the second rank must reach the eighth rank to promote and a black pawn starting on the seventh rank must get to the first rank to promote. A pawn doesn’t even have to reach its promotion square to pose a threat to your opponent. If you’re playing white and manage to get a pawn to the seventh rank, keeping in mind that you must have a pawn or piece protecting that pawn on the seventh rank, your opponent will be forced to use a piece to stop that pawn from promoting. The piece stopping the promotion by blocking the promotion square, for example, is no longer able to participate in the game. That piece is stuck as a baby sitter for your pawn. In an endgame, since both players have less material on the board, this can be devastating. We’ll look at this later on in this series of articles because first, the beginner needs to learn the simplest of pawn promotions, pawn and King against lone King.

I show this example to my beginning students and ask one simple question: “It’s white to move. Who moves first, the pawn or the King?” Beginners are taught King safety from day one of their chess careers, so they tend to think that Kings must always be protected which leads them to believe that the King doesn’t participate in the game. They also know that the pawn is worth less than the King in terms of relative value. Therefore, they more often than not say, “move the pawn.” They recoil in horror, well not really, but I like the image of 25 students gasping and recoiling in horror when I sternly say “WRONG!” It’s the white King who must make the first move if white is to win. When you’ve reduced a position to pawns and Kings only, the King now has the opportunity to become a very powerful attacker and defender.

This is where the extremely powerful idea of King opposition comes into play. Simply put, King opposition is a position in which two Kings face one another with a square between them (remember my friends who are new to the game, King’s can never be on squares immediately next to one another). King opposition is crucial to white promoting its pawn. Why? Well, since King’s cannot be on adjacent squares, an imaginary line is created that cannot be crossed by either King when in opposition.

For white to win, in the above example, the King must get in front of the pawn. Therefore, the first move white makes is 1. Kd2, aiming for getting in front of the pawn and King opposition. Black makes a point of moving towards the white pawn with 1…Ke7. The experienced player manning the white pieces will easily win. However, the beginner, employing the idea that material of lesser value should go out on the board first and King’s should always stay out of danger, will move the pawn out first and end up with a draw rather than victory. In this type of endgame position, the King moves first.

Move two, 2. Ke3, puts our King in front of the pawn which is just where we want his majesty. The black King is going to do everything in his power to stop the pawn from promoting, so he tries to stand in it’s path with 2…Ke6. When do we move our pawn? Not yet because we need to have both Kings in opposition which white does with 3. Ke4. Now black stands at a crossroad. Since neither King can occupy an immediately adjacent square, black has to yield to the white King by 3…Kd6. This is the first of two important moves. Remember the key to this problem is keeping the black King off of the white pawn’s promotion square. Next, white plays 4. Kf5. Black plays 4…Kd5. Many beginners will think, “ah, Black is going after the white pawn.” However, since pawns can move one or two squares forward on their first move (and the e2 pawn hasn’t moved yet), white can now make the first pawn move, 5. e4+, driving the black King back. Black plays 5…Kd6 with the idea of trying to get to white’s promotion square first. Move six, 6. Kf6 sees the two Kings in opposition once again, a crucial concept in this type of position. Black plays 6…Kd7 and it looks as if black can occupy the promotion square, thwarting white’s plans.

With move seven 7. e5, white pushes the pawn up while still allowing room for his King to stand in front of that pawn. Black wins the race to white’s promotion square after 7…Ke8 but things are not always as they seem! Remember, white needs to have his King if front of the pawn which he does with 8. Ke6. This is the second crucial move because now, black’s King will have to yield to the white King. Black plays 8…Kf8 and white can use his King to control the promotion square with 9. Kd7 which shuts out the black King’s control over e8. Black plays 9…Kf7 and gets hit with 10. e6+ and no way to stop the pawn from promoting.

The key factors here are getting your King in front of the pawn and using King opposition to control your opponent’s King. The white King was able to force the black King away from squares the white pawn needed to occupy. The King is a valuable attacker in the endgame and should be used. A point well worth mentioning is patience. Beginners tend to think that they can simply steamroll their pawn up the board quickly and win the game with a fast promotion. However, if you don’t carefully and slowly consider your moves you might end up with a stalemate or worse yet, losing your only pawn. I’ve seen this countless times in the games of beginners. Take your time and think things through.

Lastly, things greatly change in endgame positions depending on whose move it is. Had it been black’s move at the start of this example, things would turn out differently. I’ll reflect on this later in this series of articles. Until next week’s second part of this series, here’s a game to enjoy by a couple of fellows who know a thing or two about endgame play!

Hugh Patterson

Calculation For Beginners

Calculation is one of the most difficult concepts the beginner must learn in order to play winning chess. Calculation in chess means thinking ahead in terms of moves, not just yours but those of your opponent. I’ve had a student say, after studying with me for only a few months, that he can calculate three or four moves in advance in any given position. While you might say “hey, this Patterson fellow must be a great chess teacher if his students can do that in such a short period of time,” but sadly you’d be wrong. What the student was actually saying is that they are calculating their three or four next moves but not those of their opponent! That’s a big problem since their opponent will most likely make a single move that derails the student’s plans. Real chess calculation requires anticipating the best possible move your opponent can make and going forward from there. Calculation only works if you think about both sides of the board.

Beginners don’t think about their opponent’s potential moves when calculating their own. They look at the position and see a possible attack that garners them material or checkmate. They think “all I have to do is move this piece here, that piece there, followed by another piece to another square” and they win material or the game. They become blind to their opponent’s position, only seeing their own pawns and pieces. While experienced players consider this absurd, we have to keep in mind that you make a lot of mistakes when you first start out (I certainly have done this). The more experienced player calculates by considering the opposition’s placement of pawns and pieces and the best response their opponent can make in response to the experienced players move.

So the beginner should start their journey towards making sound calculations by looking at their opponent’s position. I have my students look at every opposition pawn and piece before considering any move. The question they must ask themselves is what is the best move each opposition pawn and piece can make? While this takes time, it serves to force the beginner to look at their opponent’s material and not just their own. This is when the beginner will suddenly notice that, for example, one of their pieces could be captured because it is unguarded. They’ll also might discover that the square they’re planning on attacking as part of their plan, has more defenders than the beginner has attackers. Just looking at a position in this manner can soundly point out any flaw in our beginner’s plan or prevent the loss of hanging pieces.

I have an exercise in which, after each student makes their move, they switch sides, make their moves and switch sides again. So the student playing the white pieces makes a move, as does the student playing black, and then they switch sides with the person previously playing white, now playing the black pieces for a single move. They students go back and forth, switching sides with each move. This really forces students to see both sides of the board and helps develop the idea of finding their opponent’s best move.

Finding your opponent’s best move before making a move of your own goes a long way towards developing good calculation techniques. After all, your move is only good if it factors in your opponent’s best repsonse. In fact, you shouldn’t consider any move until you consider what you would do, your opponent’s best move, if you were on the other side of the board.

So what should you consider as a good or great opposition move? First off, it goes without saying that any move that derails your immediate plans counts! However, as I pointed out in my last article, great moves are those that simply do their job, so there are many choices. For now we’ll concentrate on two types of opposition moves the beginner should look for, the move that derails their immediate plan and the move that leaves the attacker suddenly as the defender. Let’s start with the derailing move.

Beginners tend to think that their opponent doesn’t see their great attack, leading them to think that their plan will go unchallenged. When you have two beginners with the same skill set playing one another, you’ll actually have a case in which the player being attacked often doesn’t see it coming. However, if the beginner is playing a stronger opponent, the attack is seen and the great winning plan falls apart quickly. Many great attacks can be derailed with the simplest of moves which is why you have to consider each and every pawn and piece belonging to the opposition. This is the basis of sound chess calculations. Obviously, if you’re planning an attack on a specific square, you count attacker versus defenders. Let’s say you have three attackers to the opposition’s two defenders. Since you always want to have more attackers than defenders, or the reverse if you’re the defender, you then want to play through the exchange in your head. After the exchange, have you gained more material or lost more material? Just doing this simple calculation has forced you to think ahead, another basis for sound chess calculations. If you come out down the exchange (losing material), you’re attack should be reconsidered unless it delivers checkmate.

Let’s say you do the calculation and you’ll come out ahead. Before starting your attack, and this is really important and goes back to the idea of examining you opponent’s position, look for that one move that derailed your plans. You might have created a plan to win your opponent’s Queen and you start the attack. All goes well and then your opponent makes a move that skewers one of your major attacking pieces to your King and guess what? You lose that piece and your attack falls apart. Why did this happen? It happened because you didn’t look closely enough at your opponent’s pawns and pieces. Your opponent, on the other hand, looked closely at your position and found a way out, a weakness. You cannot create sound calculations unless you factor in the opposition’s possible responses.

My next example happens all the time, especially in the case of back rank mates. With a back rank mate, a King is typically castled on the King-side with three pawns on front of it on either the second rank for white or the seventh rank for black. There may be one Rook left to guard the King’s rank. An opposition Rook or Queen will be looming on an open file. Our beginner will see what they think is an opportunity for a big attack and move their defending Rook off of the King’s rank. Our intrepid beginner launches his or her attack and thinks that things are going smoothly until that looming opposition Rook or Queen swoops down to the King’s rank and checkmates our beginner. Many great beginner’s attacks are also snuffed out with a well timed delivery of a check to the attacker’s King that seemed to come out of nowhere. In reality, the check or back rank mate was always there. Unfortunately, the beginner missed it because they were suffering from tunnel vision, seeing only their pawns and pieces, not those of their opponent.

The foundation of successful calculations always starts with taking the time to determine what you would do if you were playing the other side of the board.

You won’t be able to calculate a large number of moves into the future when your first start playing, so you should start off by trying to calculate two moves at a time, your move and your opponent’s best response. Don’t try to calculate any further until you’ve learned to determine your opponent’s best response to your single move. You won’t always get it right but this will improve with time. Doing just this will teach you how to see the entire board and create a foundation for the next step in your journey towards good calculations, thinking one and a half moves ahead.

Thinking one and a half moves ahead means considering your next move, your opponent’s best response to that move and finally, your response to the initial opposition’s response. Here, we again follow the guidelines of looking at the opposition pawns and pieces, assessing any potential threats and, if the position warrants it, making that move. However, once you’ve determined your opponent’s best response you have to have a follow up move. If you don’t, the move you’ve carefully considered won’t have the desired effect. If you make move “a” and your opponent makes move “b” then you should have a move “c” that deals with move “b.” With my students, I spend a great deal of time working on our one and a half move technique. Once this is somewhat mastered, remember we’re talking about beginners here so complete mastery comes much later in their chess careers, we move onto four move calculations and so forth.

The idea here is to build up your calculation techniques one move at a time. If you carefully examine your opponent’s position and try to determine their best response, you’ll be well on your way towards developing real calculation skills. If you have trouble at first, don’t become stressed because, like all skills in chess (and in life), it takes time and practice. Take your time! Here’s a game by a couple of gentlemen who know quite a bit about calculation. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Great Move

Ask a beginner what they consider to be a great chess move and they’re most likely to tell you that it’s a move that either garners a large material advantage or delivers checkmate. Moves that are tactical in nature, such as forks or skewers, are also considered great moves by the novice player. The beginner thinks in terms of all or nothing moves. Let me give you an analogy: The difference between the professional gambler and the amateur gambler comes down to carefully playing the odds. In blackjack, the professional will not bet his or her entire bank on a single hand because they know there is always a chance the dealer will have a higher count (barring the professional having 21 in his or her hand). Professionals play for the long haul. The amateur, on the other hand, will have 17 in hand and bet the bank. The dealer’s cards add up to 19 and our amateur now has no money. The same idea holds true in beginner’s chess. The novice player will go in for fast all or nothing attacks while the experienced player will build up an attack slowly, garnering small positional advantages that add up to a large advantage later on.

Believe it or not, beginners get this idea from chess teachers and instructional material. It’s not that the chess teacher or DVD is telling students to launch a fast all or nothing attack. Quite the opposite. The problem arises because the student, who is often new to the game, remembers the end result and not the careful positional buildup that produced that end result. The beginner sees the brilliant checkmate, but is too new to the game to understand the moves made to set up that checkmate. To the beginner, the move that delivered mate is remembered as the great move.

When teaching young beginners the game of chess, I have to provide lesson examples that are entertaining. Specific concepts, such as gambits, can best be explained by showing games from the romantic era of chess. These games were often violent clashes that wouldn’t hold sway in today’s modern era of play but they serve as great teaching examples of specific ideas. The problem arises when students start thinking that this is the only way they should play. When a beginner tries to play like Paul Morphy, they fail because they haven’t developed advanced chess skills (yet). They also only see the end result. In Morphy’s Opera House Massacre, beginners see the sacrifice of Morphy’s Queen, which leads to mate on Morphy’s next move, and think, “I’ll sacrifice my Queen at the right moment and win the game.” Well, they sacrifice their Queen and end up losing the Queen and the game. They don’t understand the way in which Morphy got to that point in the game by building up his position. They see the great move, the Queen sacrifice and ignore all the other moves leading up to that point because they weren’t as exciting.

To combat this problem of thinking that great moves are those that are earth shattering, I write a few things down on the blackboard (or dry erase boards as they’re called these days – remember, I went to school at the same time dinosaurs roamed the earth) in large letters right next to my demonstration board. The first thing written is “Small advantages added together create a large advantage.” Under this sentence is written “Spacial advantages win games.”

Of course we all know there’s more to it than just spacial advantages. However, you can’t overwhelm beginners with too much information all at once. Therefore, I decided the best way to steer beginners away from thinking that only big moves win games was to tackle one of the most important concepts regarding gaining an advantage, gaining space. If you gain a spacial advantage, you have more opportunities to control the game and thus win it. First though I redefine the define what a great move is.

I tell my students that a great move is simply one that accomplishes something, such as controlling an important square. Many of my students look at me with disbelief. Because they think of great moves as the single move that turns the tide or wins the game, they can’t fathom the notion of moves accomplishing something other than checkmate as being of any value. Therefore, we look closely at gaining a spacial advantage early in the game. A spacial advantage is absolutely critical in the game’s opening phase.

We’ve all played beginners who move their army towards the edge of the board while we develop soundly towards the center during the opening. Our novice opponent, quickly learns that we have greater control of the board. Control of space, the spacial advantage, is paramount to winning. If you control more of the board, especially the center during the opening, your opponent has fewer options regarding the placement of pawns and pieces. If you controlled every square on the second, third, fourth and fifth ranks, your opponent would have no safe squares on which to place his or her pawns and pieces. You can’t launch an attack if you can’t get your army onto the battlefield.

I teach students the basic opening principles, first controlling the board’s center with a pawn or two. Then they’re taught to move their minor pieces to squares that control the center. I teach beginners to castling their King as soon as possible. However, if their King is in no immediate danger, we hold off on castling and continue gaining a spacial advantage. In the opening, the more squares you control, the more difficult it is for your opponent to bring their own material into the game. To gain an early spacial advantage, you must activate your pawns and pieces. Get all of your minor pieces into the action. Too often, beginners will develop two of their four minor pieces, leaving their undeveloped minor pieces sitting on their starting squares. Move you minors to more active squares, those that control space on the board. After getting your minor pieces out, consider a flank pawn push of one square to keep your opponent from using a bishop to pin your Knight on f3 to your Queen. Use your Rooks. A Rook on f1 or f8, after castling King-side is nowhere near as effective as a Rook on e1 or e8 (especially when there’s an un-castled King on the opposite side of the file.

Slowly move pieces to more active squares. Doing so will strangle the life out of your opponent’s position, again making an attack by them difficult. Students always tell me they can’t find a good move. I look at their board and see a lot of inactive pieces. If you don’t see a move look again because I’m sure you can improve the activity your pawns and pieces. Those stunning or great moves will come to light but only if you set them up and that means building up small advantages. Here’s the Paul Morphy game mentioned earlier in this article to enjoy until next week.

Play As If…

Play as if your life depended on it! That’s what I tell my students before they sit down to play a casual or tournament game. Why would I say this? Because too often a player will let a winning game slip from his or her grasp. It happens more often than you might think. When I first started teaching and coaching chess, I watched my students get themselves into winning positions and much to my horror, watched them throw those almost guaranteed victories away. I’m guilty of having done the same thing as well! How could this possibly happen? After all, my students (as well as myself) were playing sound chess, otherwise they wouldn’t be so close to winning their games. I decided to take some notes in order to address the problem at hand. After some time, I came to some conclusions including the discovery of the greatest factor contributing to this problem.

The overwhelming reason why won games at a non master level are lost is overconfidence. Over confidence is an annoying human trait that tends to pave our personal road of success with the asphalt of failure. We often see it in sports. A team has an unprecedented winning streak, defying the odds, and that winning team starts to feel as if they have no competition. This leads to feeling overconfident because, after all, they’ve just set a record for the most games won consecutively. Enter the opposition, a team who is simply more hungry for a win. The game is played and our champions go down in flames, often beaten by a team with lesser record.

With my chess students, I found that many of them let victory slip away because they felt there was no way they could lose. They had a winning position and rather than keep up the pressure, fighting for a win, they slacked off. They didn’t examine the position carefully enough because, after all, victory was within their grasp. They didn’t play as if their life depended on it!

One point all chess players should take note of is this: A single bad move can start a downward spiral of quickly growing problems that you can’t recover from. It’s the snowball effect: A small, two foot ball of snow, rolling three miles down a mountain is going to gather snow on its way down until very soon it becomes an eight foot ball of snow and ice traveling along at a speed rivaling that of a car. Our little ball of snow becomes a lethal weapon. A bad move in chess is like our snowball. It starts off bad and only gets worse. This holds true in each phase of the game. Chess is a very foundation driven game. Like building a house, that house is only as good as the foundation it’s build upon. The foundation you build during the opening supports your middle-game and the middle-game serves as a foundation for your endgame. Create a weak foundation early on and your game will collapse like a house of cards on a windy day.

You should consider each move you make as one that builds the foundation supporting your next move. When you build a house (something I’ve actually done), that house isn’t complete until the last nail is driven in. You must be careful with every step to ensure your house is built correctly, able to stand the test of time. The same holds true in chess. When you’re overconfident, you’re more likely to develop tunnel vision that allows you only to see the end result, victory over your opponent. If you’re not thinking in terms of strengthening your foundation, your winning attack will collapse. This is where runaway chess snowballs are born! The game isn’t over until checkmate is declared.

Every move should be considered part of the overall foundation of your game, especially when you’re very close to winning. When you think your close to winning, make each and every move as if your life depended on it. Another problem that causes winning positions to fall apart is over-excitement, especially with players who don’t have a lot of experience.

We’ve all suffered from being so excited that the game is completely going our way that we starting seeing only what we need to do in order to win rather than what our opponent can do to turn the tables. I had a student recently tell me, after only six months of playing chess, that he could see four moves ahead. Actually, he was seeing the four moves he wanted to make, not those of his opponent. While beginners suffer from this problem, more experienced players can suffer from the same type of thinking when the smell of victory is in the air. We see a sequence of moves that delivers checkmate and victory for us. What we don’t see is that one move our opponent can make to ruin our plan.

When you start feeling excited about a winning position, take a few deep breaths, slowly (and silently) count to twenty and look at the position as if you were the one in trouble. To facilitate this, pretend you’re playing the position as your opponent. Look at the position carefully and see if there’s a way to turn the tables. Let’s say you’re playing white and you have the potential to mate in four. Before making the first of those four moves, pretend you’re the player with the black pieces and look for a way to stop or slow down the attack. Consider sacrificing a piece to stop the potential checkmate. Look for some way to damage the attack. Consider every pawn and piece. Can you create positional chaos? Now that you’ve considered your opponent’s position in greater detail, you can launch your attack. Of course, if you discovered, by pretending to be in charge of your opponent’s material, that your attack can be stopped or crippled by a sacrifice, for example, reconsider your attack.

Also be wary of your opponent playing for a draw or your creating one because, in a King and Queen versus King endgame, you got overexcited and moved your Queen to a square that created a stalemate position. During the endgame, you need to slow down and play carefully. The fewer pieces there are on the board, the slower and more thoughtfully you have to play. If you were the one with a losing position and saw a chance to draw the game rather than lose it, wouldn’t you go for the draw. With beginners, endgames are rarely reached so their knowledge of endgame technique is weak at best.

If you make each move with the idea of that move creating a foundation for the next move, taking your time and considering your opponent’s options as much as you consider yours, you’ll have fewer victories slip from your hands. If you have a great advantage, such as more material than your opponent and can’t launch a big attack immediately, create further, small advantages. A collection of small advantages can add up to one big advantage and help to nail down that win. Don’t let tunnel vision cloud the view of the entire chessboard. See the entire board! Above all, make every single move as if your life depended on it. Here’s a game in which the stakes were high. Talk about playing as if your life, actually your country, depended on it! Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

Editorial note: Hugh has been having some serious health issues and needs assistance to afford an operation. If you’d like to donate, please follow this link.